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Costco vs. Sam’s: Which Card is Better?

Costco vs. Sam’s: Which Card is Better?

*Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Mar 18, 2014, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

Costco and Sam’s Club are both very large, whole-sale warehouse clubs located throughout the United States. Their goal is to provide savings to all customers by selling in bulk and coffers frequent discounts on purchases. These types of stores are great for business owners, sporting events that sell items at concession stands, and even for fundraisers. Most everyday items such as groceries and cleaning supplies can be found in extra-large sizes or quantities. From what I can tell, Costco is internationally located and Sam’s Club is strictly located in the US.

Like most stores, both warehouse clubs offer a member rewards card in addition to a credit card that can also be used anywhere else that accepts either Discover or American Express, depending on the card you choose. Most people who shop at these stores will choose the one closest to them rather than one that’s better than the other. If you live somewhere where both stores are in close vicinity though, you may be interested in knowing which store credit card would give you the most bang for your buck. Let’s take a look at some of the features these cards offer their card members.

costco vs sams club
How the Rewards Stack Up

Costco teamed up with American Express to offer their store credit card, TrueEarnings Card by Costco and Amex, and Sam’s Club teamed up with Discover to offer their store credit card, Sam’s Club Discover Card. Both cards offer rewards, but the TrueEarnings Card could potentially earn cardholders a little bit more than Sam’s Club. TrueEarnings cardmembers earn 3% cash back on US gas stations and on gasoline at Costco on up to $4,000 per year in purchases, then you earn 1% per dollar spent after you reach the $4,000 limit. In addition to saving on Costco purchases, cardholders can also earn 2% cash back at US restaurants and on eligible travel purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases, including at Costco. *Terms and restrictions apply.

Sam’s Club, on the other hand, only offers one rewards tier; 2% cash back on purchases made at Sam’s Club. While failing to find their terms and conditions I had to call customer service and was informed that you can earn 2% on all purchases at stores that accept Discover and are not part of the below merchants:

Sam's club stipulations


The total amount of rewards earned will be distributed once per year with each credit card. That’s a little inconvenient because other major issuers allow you to redeem rewards each month.  TrueEarnings will issue a Reward coupon every February, redeemable for cash or merchandise at US Costco Warehouses. For some reason the Reward coupon expires August 31 of the issued date. That means you have just about 6 months to use your coupon. Like most individuals, I’m sure club members visit their favorite store once every week or two, but other credit cards that offer cash back won’t expire on you as long as your account stays in good standing. *Terms and restrictions apply.

Sam’s Club will also issue their rebates to customers every February, which will also “expire on the expiration date printed on the front of the checks.” Below outlines the yearly rebate percentage you can expect to receive from your annual purchases with your Sam’s Club Credit Card:

  • Up to $1,500 Earn .25%
  • $1,500.01 – $3,000 Earn .50%
  • $3,000.01 – $5,000 Earn 1%
  • $5,000.01 – $10,000 Earn 1.75%
  • $10,000.01 – $250,000 Earn 2%

Overall Card Mechanics

The TrueEarnings Card by Costco offers an intro APR of 0% for 6 months on purchases with an on-going APR of 15.24% variable. The annual fee with this card is free with a paid Costco membership, which is $55 for individuals and households and for business membership. *Terms and restrictions apply.

Sam’s Club Discover Card states “no annual fee” in the terms and conditions, but that only applies with a paid Sam’s membership like the TrueEarnings Card states. A Sam’s Club membership is $45 for the Saving’s and Business membership, and $100 for the Sam’s Plus membership. So, there’s no annual fee to carry the card, but you must pay the annual Sam’s club membership fee to be a member. Unfortunately the Sam’s Club Discover Card doesn’t publicly post their terms and conditions. I spoke with a representative at GE Capital, the bank that finances this Sam’s Club/Discover partnership, and she was unable to direct me to the terms and conditions online without logging in. I told her I’m not applying for the card unless I know the exact terms and conditions. Annoyed she asked, “what do you wanna know?” After I rattled off everything you would normally find in the terms and conditions she let out a heavy sign and started reading through the conditions. The Sam’s Club information with an asterisk in the below table reflects the information I obtained from my conversation. I put asterisks in because I’m not so sure the representative knew exactly what she was talking about. The TrueEarnings Card information below was obtained straight from the terms and conditions, which is extremely easy to find btw.

Sam’s Club Discover Card TrueEarnings Card
 Warehouse Club Membership  $45 for personal or business; $100 for Sam’s Plus  $55
 Intro APR on Purchases  N/A  0% for 6 Months
 On-going APR  22.9% Variable, depending on creditworthiness*  15.24% Variable
 Late Fee  up to $39.99*  Up to $37
 Returned Check  up to $39.99*  Up to $37
 Penalty APR  N/A*  27.24%
 Foreign Transaction Fee  3%*  2.7% per transaction
 Cash Advance  Depends on your APR**  $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater
 Balance Transfer Fee  N/A*  $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater
 3% Cash Back  N/A  at US gas stations and on gas at Costco (up to $4,000 then 1%)
 2% Cash Back  on all purchases, including at Sam’s (see exceptions above)  at US restaurants and on eligible travel purchases, including at Costco
 1% Cash Back  N/A  on all other purchases, including at Costco

*Terms and restrictions apply.

Who’s Better?

I thought this would be more of a toss-up since they are both huge wholesale warehouses, both affiliated with a major bank, and both come with a rewards program.  I think TrueEarnings by Costco and American Express is the better option because I feel it has the better rewards program, and it offers both an intro APR and a lower on-going APR.

I’m especially bothered by the inability to locate the terms and conditions of the Sam’s Club Discover Credit Card. I thought the CARD Act made it mandatory to post that information publicly. I can probably view the terms after I apply, but that kind of defeats the purpose -I should be able to see my terms before I apply. I was able to find the terms on their business accounts, but not for their personal accounts.

*Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.

*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.

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